Impact Centered Design — an Introduction

Urooj Qureshi
Mar 15, 2019 · 10 min read

Impact Centered Design (ICD) is a framework for designing solutions that focus on consciously creating impact. The process requires designers to research and establish impact objectives at the front-end of the creative process. The term “designer” here applies to anyone who is involved in the creation of tangible or intangible objects, products, processes, strategy, services, and experiences.

Leading with an Impact Statement designers are guided through different stages of the framework to explore ideas, test hypothesis, and strategically develop solutions keeping in context the specific environment, purpose and mission, stakeholders, capacity, and other operational processes. ICD also provides a practical framework to develop solutions in alignment with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by using them as a means to benchmark and validate demand and needs for public, corporate, and social ventures.


At the heart of ICD is the Impact Statement. Every initiative begins with a spark, an idea, a curiosity, or a need. It is often here a creative process begins before mushrooming in to hours of planning, thinking, crafting, testing, releasing, and so on. But before investing sizable amounts of resources in to any initiative it is valuable to write an Impact Statement. This will simplify decision making, guide progress and set the initiative on the right set of rails for creating impact.

Impact Centered Design Framework

An Impact Statement is specific, carefully crafted, and rooted in real needs. A real need, in the ICD context, is evidence-based and identifies clear objectives for creating measurable outcomes.

For example, the statement, ‘we need to design an app for senior citizens’, offers an objective but lacks the necessary context that defines the need as well as the expected impact as result of the exercise. A proposed way to frame the statement is: ‘an accessible solution is required to improve access to care and emergency services for senior citizens who live independently.

ExerciseAt the start of your next design meeting ask each team member to write down the impact they want to create as a result of the activity that you are about to discuss or undertake. Offer five minutes to everyone to craft their Impact Statement and write it on a post-it note. If you’re working alone, come up with 2–3 statements. Think of the need and the impact you want to create from different angles. Spend about five minutes to write each statement. Post the sticky notes on a wall and ask everyone to take a few minutes to review all of the contributions or read them out loud as a group. Create space to discuss and validate each contribution against available evidence or research to support the impact objective. Group similar contributions together. Do you see some common themes emerging? Are there impact statements that are firmly backed by evidence and define needs that most members of your team see as an opportunity for impact creation?

The impact that you or your team choose to focus on will guide the design of your solution as well as the 3P’s of Impact Centered Design: Purpose, People, and Processes


The first step in creating impact is to understand the purpose or need for it. Here we begin the process of exploration and research to understand and gauge the relevance of our Impact Statement:

Why is a solution necessary now and what advantages will it offer us, our organization, or our community of interest? What unique opportunities do we have available to address the need identified? When is a solution needed or how urgent is the need to build a solution now instead of focusing on other demands on our resources? These are amongst the questions that are presented in a facilitated group environment to set up the right foundation and goals for design.

Example: Education as a Solution for Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

A few years ago I co-founded The Lotus Project. It happen after I discovered that nearly half of school-aged children don’t have proper access to education in Karachi. My passion for the cause created a spark and I set about learning more about the issue and crafting an Impact Statement with my partner.

After preliminary research we identified that our design exercise needed to focus on public schools. Parents who sent their children to private schools were naturally involved in their education process as well as the needs of the school to varying degrees. As a result, private schools, even those serving low-income communities were mostly better off than their government operated counterparts. Public schools on the other hand were dogged by a broad range of issues, from crumbling infrastructure to lacking qualified teachers. Other times, children from low-income families were involved in supporting their families economically, among other reasons, and were dis-incentivized to attend school. We quickly discovered that we were dealing with a problem with many tentacles attached to the core issue.

Our goal was to identify a solution that would create access to quality education for all children in Karachi. However, to identify the right solution we needed to define a purpose for our exercise. The Lotus Project focused on education because it is a human right and without it youth and low-income families are perpetually excluded from opportunities in all areas of human development. Un-and-under educated children would grow up with limited opportunities, especially economic. When the same children would go on to have their families the cycle would repeat all over again. Our purpose, therefore, was to break this cycle of poverty by developing a program that provided meaningful opportunities to children and their families to gain a proper education and the skills necessary to access more meaningful economic opportunities.

Through consultation with members of the target community we launched a program within the public school system where children who attended regular classes also had access to a vocational training program. The program would train boys and girls in skills based trades such as carpentry, painting, sewing so that when required they can put those skills to use along with their education to engage in entrepreneurial activities or better paid work that was in-demand in a growing city and economy.


In contrast to other design frameworks, Impact Centered Design focuses on all people associated with impact creation and impact benefit — that includes the people who will ultimately use the solutions as well as the creators and other stakeholders who are involved in the creation, such as partners or suppliers in the case of material goods. Each stakeholder contributes to the ultimate outcomes of a design exercise. For example, a mobile phone company that builds devices with replaceable parts to reduce consumer and industrial waste can also measure their impact by consciously choosing the sources and types of materials being used in the production of their products. Every stakeholder involved in the process, from material extraction to bring the phone to market offers an opportunity to create more sustainable outcomes.

ICD leverages human-centered design (HCD) and other design methodologies to create exceptional user experiences delivered through consciously designed products and services. Using personas ICD guides the creation of reliable and realistic representations of each audience segment. Personas are based on qualitative and quantitative research to aid in uncovering catalysts for the creation of solutions that will result in measurable impact.

Example: A Recipe for Success using Personas

In 2015, the co-founders of Pinpic, including myself, set out to create an app that allowed users to hire photographers on demand. On the outset it was obvious that product addressed two personas: (a) the photographer, and (b) the customer. While that was true it was hardly enough to start building a sustainable and impact centered product. We needed to gain a deeper understanding of who specifically were our users? Why did they care about using our app? And how we will deliver real value to our users?

Before we wrote a single line of code for Pinpic we setup a study to learn more about the types of photographers and customers (users) who would most benefit from the service. We used a number of user research methods to create personas, which included conducting user interviews and surveys. We even launched a Kickstarter campaign as a tactic to gather data about users who are willing to invest the type of service we wanted to bring to market. The information we collected drove all of our product decisions and business model design. Everything was evidence based. Furthermore, by discovering and engaging our target audience we build a database of users who were ready to sign-up the day we launched over 60% did in fact sign-up as early adopters for our private alpha release and provided further valuable feedback allowing us to release a polished public beta.

Our early user research uncovered valuable information that helped launch Pinpic using reliable and realistic representation of our users and customers. For example, we discovered that our “customer” or buyer persona most needed photography on demand when traveling outside of their community. Most people contact their friends and family to find a reliable photographer locally for events such as their wedding, portraits, and other occasions that happen within their community. When traveling there was a need for a referral network to find trusted photographers especially for special occasions such as an anniversary, a surprise engagement, or a reunion of friends and family. This finding alone saved us considerable amounts of effort and money and allowed the team to deliver value where it was most needed. Can you spot the two early-stage personas Pinpic created in this campaign video?

Studying customers and users and understanding their needs and motivations is an important exercise when designing for impact.


ICD offers an end-to-end process for bringing creations into being. That includes keeping in context capacity and resources, materials and production methods, as well as the evaluation and measurement of impact. The goal of a designer is to deliver the final product and ensure that it is accessible, usable, sustainable, and traceable by the end-user through processes design.

When viewed in context to people, processes design uncovers the required actions to develop the solution. Whereas when viewed from the context of purpose, it allows for the definition of how impact will be measured (in numbers). Using journey mapping as a core tool designers can carefully craft the user experience for each persona and find opportunities to optimize impact, align resources with outcomes, and implement controls to manage standards. The journey map also allows the designer to analyze the role of each persona in the process of impact creation and implement data collection points. The data collected can be used to improve processes on an ongoing basis, make better decisions especially as conditions shift, and measure as well as report on impact.

Example: More than a Product, a Smart Phone that is a Call-to-Action

Fairphone is an excellent example of a product that is designed for impact. The team at the smart phone company have clearly thought of the purpose for which they exist and the people who are involved at every stage of their product life cycle. Fairphone uses ethically sourced materials and manufacturing in an effort to improve the social welfare of underrepresented mine and factory workers along the mobile phone industry’s supply chain.

By consciously designing for impact Fairphone has carefully thought of its processes and defined four strategic goals to measure its progress in each impact area:

Long-Lasting Design to deliver on their impact objectives, Fairphone builds products to last and be repaired easily by the customer. They have brought real innovation to their industry by creating the world’s first modular phone.

Fair Materials Fairphone has developed a framework to better understand the issues in materials supply chain and source more responsibly by increasing their use of recycled materials. They have also identified partners to help them achieve their impact objectives.

Good Working Conditions to create a lasting impact Fairphone takes responsibility of how and where their products are manufactured and go beyond the traditional compliance model. They have made it their goal to improve working conditions in the heart of the electronics sector, including health and safety, worker representation and working hours.

Reuse and Recycle instead of selling a new phone to their customers every 18 months, Fairphone sells spare parts and offer repair tutorials to encourage customer to use their phone for as long as possible. They also partner to improve local collection efforts in countries struggling with electronic waste.


Impact Centered Design (ICD) can be used by designers in every sector and industry. ICD can be also used in conjunction with other design and systems frameworks. It is most useful when designers are committed to designing for impact. In this paper I have shared just a few examples of how ICD can be used and is directly relevant to the design of services (The Lotus Project), digital apps (Pinpic), and consumer products (Fairphone). There is one more important use case where this framework offers value to teams and organizations across all sectors: the use of ICD framework to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) established by the world community through the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Sustainable Development Goals. Source: UNDP

SDGs are a valuable resource for individuals and organizations who want to create meaningful impact. They are a global call to action expressed as 17 goals established to improve the quality of life for all people and protect the planet. I believe the SDGs are relevant to designers in the social, corporate, and public sectors in a deeply meaningful way. One way to look at them from a startup or private sector perspective is to see them as validated demand for products and services. Each member nation of the UN has committed to specific goals and targets, which means designers have access to strategic information about the need and the progress that is being made in each area at a community level. That is powerful for evidence base design and is necessary for creating a lasting impact.


Impact Centered Design is developed by Urooj Qureshi who is a globally active design leader and social entrepreneur with nearly two decades of experience designing products and solutions across multiple sectors.

If you would like more information about how to use Impact Centered Design for your initiative or within your organization, please contact Urooj at:


Impact Centered Design

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store